When you're looking for a worthy New Year's resolution for 2018, resolve to invest in your career, your brand and yourself. Although you might have already taken steps through self-improvement courses like leadership coaching or career counseling, that's not enough. To achieve your professional goals, your personal brand has to shine both online and in the physical world.
Click through to receive a wealth of valuable career advice and reach the level of success you want.
Position Yourself as a Specialist
James Pollard, marketing consultant and owner of TheAdvisorCoach.com, tells his clients to carve out a specific niche in their industry.
"The best piece of advice I can give someone in any industry when it comes to personal branding is to become a specialist and become really good at the few things you do," he said. "If you have a heart condition, would you feel more comfortable going to a general practitioner or a cardiologist? Also, who do you think gets paid more?"
Pollard recommends finding something you both like and think you can sell and immerse yourself in it.
"I tell my clients to pick a few areas where they want to specialize," he said. "Then, I tell them to read as much as they can on self-improvement and to invest in themselves as much as possible."
Reassess Your LinkedIn Profile
2018 is the time to make a free career investment by joining LinkedIn. If you're already a member, make it your New Year's resolution to revisit your profile, update your information and remove anything that's dated or irrelevant.
"It's time to overhaul your LinkedIn profile so that it represents your personal brand, career story, accomplishments and successes," said Jessica Hernandez, president and CEO of Great Resumes Fast. Additionally, you should dig deeper and exploit every resource the site has to offer, like a powerful feature called Open Candidates, according to Hernandez. "It will confidentially alert recruiters who are signed up for the service that you are open to new opportunities without the worry of notifying your current company," she said.
Get Business Cards That Are as Awesome as You
We live in a digital world, but physical business materials still carry weight. "Your business card will be the first point of contact with any client," said Dennis Michael, branding expert and owner of Wake Creative. "You want to make a lasting impression."
Fortunately, you don't have to be a graphic designer — or spend a fortune — to create high-end cards. Sites like Fiverr let you hire freelance designers to create professional business cards for as little as $5, but VistaPrint offers low-cost, entry-level cards starting at $7.99. If you have the means, however, an upgrade might be one of the best ways to invest your money.
"Spend the extra money to make your card feel and look amazing," Michael said.
Create a Website
Having a well-written, attractive and easy-to-navigate website can help position you as a professional among amateurs. Additionally, a strong website makes you stand out, extend your reach and control your online image.
You don't have to be a web designer — or independently wealthy — to create a website that turns heads, although a modest expenditure might be the best way to invest money in your brand.
"Today it is easy and realistic to have a website in just a few hours using platforms like Wix and Squarespace," said David Mitroff, Ph.D., a business consultant, marketing expert, keynote speaker and founder of Piedmont Avenue Consulting. "With your own website, you are creating a central hub for all the people seeking to learn more about you."
Volunteer Your Time
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 25 percent of Americans perform volunteer work, with women giving more of their time than men.
Donating your time, energy, talent and skills isn't just good for the community, it can also help your career and personal brand, according to Deidre Woollard of real estate public relations site Lion & Orb.
"Volunteering lets you get more experience in areas that you might be curious about, and it can also help you deepen your skills," she said. "It also looks great on your resume because it shows you are community-minded and dedicated to using your abilities as a force for good. A great way to start is to find out what business organizations in your area have opportunities where your skills can come into play or to find volunteer organizations that are relevant to your career."
Find a Mentor
Woody Guthrie mentored Bob Dylan. Maya Angelou mentored Oprah Winfrey. Investment guru Warren Buffett was mentored by legendary investor Benjamin Graham. And they're not alone — some of the most influential and successful people in history credit their success to the relationships they built with their mentors.
The best mentors can give advice on how to change careers, network, and how to make and invest your money. When you're looking for a mentor, focus on the person, not the profession or position, according to Forbes. It's also wise to look outside of your job or industry find a person with a fresh perspective.
Finally, be worthy of a mentor. Good mentees aren't seeking someone to lean on — they're looking to grow and are eager to put the guidance they receive into practice.
To successfully climb the career ladder in 2018, consider hitting the books.
"One of the harder, but usually most effective things to do is to pursue further education," said Valerie Streif, senior advisor to career management and mentoring site Mentat. "Whether it is a continuing education course that gives you a special certification or taking university courses part time to earn another degree, usually more education translates to promotions and better jobs."
You can find affordable courses at your local community college. These days, however, you don't have to leave the house to improve your knowledge base. Many sites offer free or cheap courses, workshops and other programs that can help you grow as a person while growing your resume at the same time.
For example, edX offers free courses from some of the world's most highly regarded learning institutions, including Harvard, Berkeley and MIT. Similarly, Johns Hopkins offers publicly accessible education through its courseware site, as does MIT and Carnegie Mellon. Stanford University offers open classes to the public on iTunes. Coursera offers specialized courses, as does Skillshare.
Get Creative on Social Media
Gabriel Daniels, PE, CEO of Paramonos Models and chairman of the board at Paramonos Enterprises, wrote an article on LinkedIn detailing the importance of thinking outside the box on your social networks in 2018.
Daniels suggests gaining exposure by hosting social media contests and giving away prizes in the form of merchandise — merchandise covered with your brand name and logo, that is. When used in conjunction with pay-per-click ads directing traffic to your site, this can be an especially powerful strategy, according to Daniels.
Be Your Authentic Self
According to Entrepreneur, you should make an effort in 2018 to let the real you shine through, warts and all.
It's natural to try to create a flawless image of what you presume customers might want. But between blogs, websites and multiple social media channels, it's all too easy to spot people who posture, pose and misrepresent themselves.
The only way to be consistent and authentic is to be real. For example, if you're funny in real life, don't be afraid to use humor in your branding. If you're not, don't force it. Maintaining a false front is stressful, exhausting and, in the long run, futile.
Launch an Investigation — Into Yourself
Investing in your brand means managing your brand. Anyone can Google themselves to see what comes up — and you should. But, according to Fortune, you should go a step further by launching a full-scale investigation.
Enlist colleagues and friends who you trust and ask them to vet you the way they would any business or person they were considering hiring or working with. What do they find that they shouldn't? What don't they find that they should? From social media posts that should be private to dead links on your website, is there anything online that makes you seem amateurish or unprofessional?
Investigating yourself and your online brand might not be pleasant, but it will almost certainly be helpful.
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